By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | May 29, 2018
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”
That’s the Bible verse, John 16:33, that Colorado Mesa University (CMU) student Karissa Erickson planned to include in her graduation speech.
Karissa had been selected as one of two students to give a speech at her nursing program’s pinning ceremony in May. As a Christian, she wanted to acknowledge her faith and the role it plays in her life. After telling a few funny stories about her experience in the nursing program, she planned to talk briefly about overcoming adversity, closing with the verse above.
The only guidelines she had been given for the speech was that she and the other student who was selected to speak had to keep their combined remarks to 10 minutes, so she didn’t think her brief expression of faith would be a problem.
She was wrong.
In reviewing her speech, one official told her that, “Speeches should be free of any one religious slant.” Another official threatened her with “repercussions” if she refused to change her speech, saying the nursing “program will not tolerate [this Christian content].” That same official explained that a few years earlier some students on campus had been offended when a religious group had handed out Bibles on campus. Because of the negative attention from that incident, the university no longer allows religious remarks or Bible verses because it is “tired of dealing with this and has no more energy to spend towards it.”
But university officials have a duty to uphold their students’ constitutional rights – even if they lack the “energy” to do so.
Suspecting that officials may have violated her constitutional rights, Karissa reached out to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and we quickly sent a letter to university officials on her behalf. We explained that the First Amendment does not require them to silence all religious references and that it is unconstitutional for CMU to censor Karissa’s speech because it contains religious remarks or simply because someone might be offended.
Thankfully, the university responded quickly and positively to the ADF letter, and Karissa was able to give her speech – Bible verse and all – at the pinning ceremony on May 11.
“We applaud the university for quickly recognizing that the First Amendment protects a graduating student’s right to mention her faith in her own speech and has never required universities to purge ceremonies of all things religious,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Director of the Center for Academic Freedom Tyson Langhofer.
We also applaud Karissa for taking a stand for her faith – facing an unexpected tribulation at the hands of her university. She may have graduated, but her actions will ensure that the students to come will also have the freedom to talk about their faith without fear of censorship.